Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Reasonable Limitation of Speech

Cell phones and cars don’t mix.
Photo source: Geekologie

Yesterday, I talked about free speech. Today, I’m arguing for limitations on speech—not what you say, when you can say it.

California has joined at least 17 other states, including Texas, in banning talking on a cell phone while you drive—unless you use a hands-free device. And I’m going to argue that the law does not go far enough.

The exception for hands-free devices comes in spite of studies showing that the danger of using cell phones while driving stems not from taking a hand off the wheel, but from multitasking. Apparently talking on the phone uses so much bandwidth that it reduces the bran’s ability to process other data, including spatial relationships.

And the California law fails to ban texting, checking your email, or setting an appointment on your calender. I’m not sure about the Texas law, but all of these activities should be banned. Not only do they use much of your brain’s computing bandwidth, they also take your eyes off the road.

Am I a hypocrite about this? Yes. I have been known to drive with a phone pressed against my ear. Shame on me. If you see me doing so, feel free to honk and tell me I’m number one. I’ll know why.


Sam said...

Here! HEAR!!

I wish the authorities in Canada would quit being so afraid of the reaction by Joe Public and take a similar stand. I feel strongly about this and I know at the same time I have been guilty of it myself.

What a new and weird world we live in when we feel we have to be accessible 24 hours a day.

Still vibing for you on the job front!!! Keep us posted.

Dragonfly said...

I have to admit talking doesn't bother me that much, esp with hands free units. although I usually will try to limit my calls to before I start driving or incredibly brief "be there in 5 minutes. see you then". What scares me is the texting. And sadly when I had a much more stressful job, I'd check my blackberry. it was not safe and I'm lucky I didn't injure myself and others. (that kind of job where it seemed a high priority until I stepped away)

Lee said...

Some recent studies have shown that the greatest risk is when calling or answering. Hands-free units only slightly reduce the risk while talking—the risk was stated in relative terms that don’t really mean anything. It seems that the problem is that conversation ocupies so much of the brain’s processing power that it pushes all other processes to the background, including video-spatial processing that driving already taxes.

These studies also call into question the safety of listening to the radio (especially talk radio), talking with a passenger, and so on.

All I know is that (non-empirically) when I see people acting like idiots in the car, they usually have a cell phone pressed against their ear or (more recently) are texting.

DianeS said...

I know that's what the studies say, but frankly unless you also outlaw talking to a passenger or even yourself, listening to the radio, or (in my case) listening to an audiobook, I don't think banning just talking hands-free while driving is feasible or reasonable. I do agree that figuring out a way to make the call or answer the call so that it takes at most one button would drastically improve the safety of those operations.

However, the texting and so on is probably even more dangerous than taking one hand off the wheel in order to hold the little phone. I think taking one's eyes off the road is the most dangerous activity of all!

Diane, who does sometimes talk on the cell phone while driving, but uses the speaker phone

Dragonfly said...

I know that driving the car, not listening to the radio or speaking to my passengers would drive me crazy, make my mind wander way more than normal or make me very sleepy. I say this because I've had periods of time in the past where I had to drive a distance to and from university and the radio was broken.

Lee said...

This is one of those areas where I don’t know what the answer is. I certainly don’t want to give up my cell phone in the car…

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